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The health benefits of chocolate

The health benefits of chocolate

Hooray for chocolate!

It's impossible to escape chocolate at this time of year. The supermarket shelves were recently groaning under the weight of assorted Easter eggs since, oooh, about a day after Valentine's Day. When it comes to overindulgence, Easter probably beats even Christmas in terms of chocolate consumption.

So here's the dilemma for anyone concerned with healthy eating at this time of year: Is it possible to indulge in the delight of chocolate without sacrificing your health in the process?

The answer is a happy, loud, resounding YES!!! Chocolate, in principle, is great for you:

  • It helps to combat the ageing process! The flavonoids in cocoa act as antioxidants in the body, mopping up free radicals that are associated with ageing and disease processes.
  • It can protect cardiovascular health! Cocoa can lower blood pressure and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels.
  • It's a natural mood booster! There's a neurochemical reason why eating chocolate cheers us up: It stimulates the production of endorphins (the hormones that allow us to experience pleasure) and increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation.

But just pause a moment before you grab that crème egg (other sickly sweet Easter eggs are available). When it comes to health benefits, not all chocolate is created equal. In fact, most chocolate has very low levels of the superfood cocoa and very high levels of sugar and fat, and is far from good for you.

The key to enjoying chocolate the healthy way lies in focusing on high cocoa content (think 70% plus) and enjoying it in moderation. Avoid chocolate with lots of other stuff added to it – fruit, nuts, flavourings and so on – as this mostly just increased its sugar content. A few squares of high-intensity, good quality dark chocolate will be far more satisfying than a large amount of sugary junk, making it easier to enjoy in moderation. And make sure you take your time to focus on the pleasure of eating it.

If you do fall prey to the ubiquitous temptations of sugary chocolate products, take heart: There's nothing like a good workout to repair the effects of overindulgence!